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The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The state of free speech at Lafayette: campus community weighs in


At UConn on Wednesday, a right wing blogger was arrested when his talk, which drew about 100 attendees, among them protesters, ended with him being pulled out of the room by security. This event is one of the latest in which a controversial speaker was brought to a college campus with many questioning why the institution allowed their presence.

When it comes to Lafayette, Vice President of Campus Life Annette Diorio said that the college has more leeway than public institutions about who to allow and who to not allow to come speak on campus, depending on whether or not the speaker falls in line with the college’s mission statement.

Lafayette reserves the right to do review a speaker coming to campus, she said, when internal or outside organizations rent out venues such as Colton Chapel and Kirby Field House. Classrooms, she said, have no review process and only those “internal to the college” can reserve them. She added that she was not aware of any instance in which the college denied a speaker from coming.

In an effort to live up to the college’s mission statement of fostering a “free exchange of ideas,” President Alison Byerly and her cabinet established the Lafayette Symposium, which was first announced at a Nov. 7 faculty meeting, according to Provost Abu Rizvi.

Modeled as a way for students to develop “academically and personally,” as Rizvi put it, the speaker series will not be limited to representing one viewpoint but “all serious intellectual and social traditions — liberal, progressive, atheist, religious, conservative, libertarian (and others).” It will be funded by the President’s Office through the college’s budget, according to Vice President and Liaison to the Board of Trustees Jim Krivoski.

Two speakers, Sigal Ben-Porath of UPenn and Keith Whittington of Princeton University, have been scheduled to visit the college early next semester for the series.

Also aiming to support viewpoint diversity is the Mill Series. An independent charity run by government and law professor Brandon Van Dyck and Abdul Manan ’18, the series is described as “non-partisan” on its website and is meant to expose students to “conservative, libertarian and religious perspectives,” while opening up to criticism “left-wing thought that [has] become pervasive in the modern academy,” the website states.

Manan said that in a space such as Lafayette, discussion should be facilitated no matter the quality of ideas presented.

“It’s really in college when we should be hearing good and bad ideas,” Manan said. “I think there is value in listening to what one may consider bad ideas because otherwise it’s hard to, you never know when it might it be when your idea might be considered bad by a number of people.”

Manan emphasized the importance of not only a speaker’s right to speak but a listener’s right to hear, neither of which he said should be impeded on.

Fayola Fair ’19 said that there is a distinction to be made between having the ability to state your views and being given a platform on which to state them in front of an audience.

“I think a lot of times people conflate the ability to speak and being given space to speak. Me not giving you a space to share your points of view doesn’t necessarily inhibit your free speech,” she said. She added that someone’s right to say whatever they want ends when it becomes a call to harm others, but not all harm that is done unto people is viewed as equal.

Fair pointed to Mill Series speaker Douglas Murray as an example of someone coming to campus who uses the same rhetoric as those who incite violence against Muslims. Murray is critical of rapid mass immigration of Muslims to Europe and believes western European culture is “worth preserving,” as Van Dyck put it.

“If it’s true that Douglas Murray’s presence would lead to an increase in anti-Muslim sentiment and even behavior, I would have a moral obligation to take that into consideration when deciding to invite him,” Van Dyck said. “The point I’m making is that institutions like Lafayette and certainly governmental institutions should not write specific rules that prohibit certain kinds of arguments from being made, because I think that is a dangerous precedent to set.”

Dean of Equity and Inclusion Chris Hunt agreed that banning one group from speaking on campus is a dangerous thing to do.

“We have to be careful about, ‘you can invite this group but you can’t invite that group,’ because the moment you don’t invite the group you don’t like, someone’s going to say [that] you also can’t invite the group that you like,” Hunt said.

Pascual Ventura ’19 and Hunt both said that speakers with academic credentials and a not-widely-held viewpoint to defend are good to have on campus, but Hunt described another “bucket,” as he put it, of speakers “who [come] to any campus to incite fear and to incite violence. I think that’s different than the person who’s coming to debate a particular argument.”

Hunt said he had been reflecting recently on the way in which the phrase “free speech” is used as an excuse for people to say whatever they want, including potentially hurtful and hateful things.

“My fear is sometimes, I wonder—I just wonder, I’m not sure this is it—but I wonder sometimes [if] when we say free speech it means something else. I wonder if it’s really saying it’s free speech, or do you want to use free speech as a way of being able to say ‘I hate this group’ or ‘this group is that,'” he said.

In support of the Mill Series is the Alumni/ae Coalition for Lafayette, central to which is a leadership group of nine alumni. The coalition formed after they became concerned with the faculty letter published in The Lafayette about the results of the president election, members said.

Bruce McDermott, who described the group members as having given generously to the college in the past, said that they are troubled by the lack of viewpoint diversity on Lafayette’s campus, and especially by the silencing of conservative students. He pointed to the Ad Hoc Committee on Ensuring Inclusive Dialogue’s final report, which contained testimonials of conservative students and their experiences being hesitant to share their views, and conversations members have had with students and parents as evidence of the claims.

Jack Bourger, an ACL member who “supports [the Mill Series] financially,” wrote in an email that from his experiences chatting with students on campus he has found free speech “lacking in the classroom.”

“I am very close to not donating to the College I love given the environment I have witnessed,” Bourger wrote. McDermott, too, said he has “put things on hold” in terms of donations due to his concerns, and the group itself has expressed concern over the college’s financial situation.

Daniel Gonzalez ’19 said he has perceived a lack of viewpoint diversity in the classroom, with most professors explaining things in a left-leaning way. However, he said that to alleviate the lack of free speech on campus, he has taken to informal discussions with friends.

“It always comes back to the willingness to hear the other person’s point of view. In many cases, and on this campus as well, it’s just non-existent. If I’m not willing to at least listen to what you’re saying and make counter arguments to it then what’s the point of even having a discussion,” Gonzalez said. Ventura similarly added that on campus, he’s witnessed the same unwillingness to budge from a viewpoint, and he sees it as sad that a campus of so many individual backgrounds can’t cooperate in that way.

Assistant Dean of Students Jennifer Dize recently co-ran a discussion for the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges about the first amendment and free speech on college campuses. She said that something discussed at the LVAIC event was the use of social media as a “new frontier” on free speech.

She said it was “reassuring actually to hear [co-runner of the discussion] Frank Roth say that no one knows right now, that social media is this new animal that the government itself hasn’t even really figured out so the rest of us also still scrambling to figure out where things fall.”

On Nov. 2, Van Dyck posted a Facebook status on the Mill Series account, addressing a student by name. “Exercise for Jovanté Anderson: name something that isn’t white supremacist,” the status reads.

“I don’t view myself as a figure with power or authority, but as one with responsibility. I grade students independently of personal feelings and political or ideological differences. Otherwise, I treat them as adults,” Van Dyck wrote in an email. “I celebrate any student’s right to articulate his or her critiques publicly. I also reserve the right—and, on occasion, choose—to respond. In the Mill Series Facebook post in question, I satirized Jovanté’s use of the concept of white supremacy.”

The post was met with comments from students criticizing its unprofessional nature, to which Van Dyck responded with a laughing minion GIF. Dize said that she is aware of the post but declined to comment any further. She would not say whether this was due to her involvement in investigating the post or because of a lack of knowledge of the situation. Anderson ’19 did not respond for comment in time for print.

“In my view, some students overreacted to my post, and I told them, in a humorous but unapologetic manner, to grow up. If one objects, one is free to say why, and I will listen, although I may not agree,” Van Dyck added.

Byerly wrote in an email that during the last faculty meeting, she talked about maintaining respect during discussions of different points of view.

“I noted at the last Faculty Meeting that the College encourages expression of divergent viewpoints,” Byerly wrote, “but that we expected such expressions to be respectful of individuals, and that any instances of unprofessional behavior would be taken seriously.”

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  • E

    Emilio Espejo '95 BSMEDec 7, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    The right of free speech should allow that exactly, free speech. Freedom to express your personal opinion to those who want to listen along with the right to apathy, rejection and deafness by those who don’t agree or feel offended by such speech. These days schools face two equally idiotic options; to either shut down the speaker or to provide group counseling, safe spaces, comfort hugging and other “soothing lotions” to babies that cannot deal with other people’s opinions. The right to disagree is now intertwined with the right to censor in order to “protect” the students. Protect? From what exactly? The “Mommy I can’t take it” virus? I am so sick and tired of fascist snowflakes violently protesting speeches by people with opposing views and then pretending to be the victims while claiming the higher moral ground. If you don’t like an opinion you better research the facts and openly debate them instead of crying in rage about someone offending you. What you should really cry about is spending $200K+ to get a BA in Lesbian Dance Theory…. but explaining that to a snowflake would be like like trying to teach quantum physics to an amoeba….

  • W

    William Rappolt ''67Dec 4, 2017 at 7:47 am

    The “should” part of the free speech issue is the key issue and it is one that is controlled by the administration and the law. The administration has to provide a framework for free speech. I would suggest the “Chicago Principles,” adapted by the University of Chicago and many prestigious schools including Princeton, Baylor, Johns Hopkins, and about 50 others. One can google it if interested. So far our administrations has resisted it. I would be willing to wager that calling a colleague a “creep” or tearing down posters advertising speakers would not be permitted free speech.

    We can envelope our discussion in long paragraphs of platitudes, but it comes down eventually to civility and controlling the baser urges of infantile invective. The use of “creep” to describe a colleague does not encourage me to give to my college. or encourage others. I would hope in the coming days to see an apology by prof Shrieber, along with the persons names who tore down the poster. In addition, a clear statement on the exercise of free speech and academic freedom from our esteemed administration would be helpful.

    • B

      Brandon Van DyckDec 4, 2017 at 12:27 pm

      I, too, need to be more peaceful and diplomatic. It’s the right thing to do, and it’s more effective. Lafayette community members, understandably, have come to associate The Mill Series with my hotheadedness.

  • T

    Tara Ochman ‘99Dec 3, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    A few thoughts, although again I would argue that social media is not a great form to really discuss the intricate nuances of such an important issue (and allows for too many typos on my part).
    (1) I do not think you have to personally subscribe to a theory in order to teach it. The beauty of my education has been that I could argue benefits and negatives of a wide range of poltical theories. I am able to do this because I was taught to how to think critically. That is a skill, and a craft. It was taught to me along side of my fellow classmates, many of whom I am still in touch with and many of whom have very different politcal leanings/affiliations then I do. We were given the same skills and used them to craft independent, informed opinions. To me that is the job of higher education.
    I also think if you demand diversity in hirings based on personal political beliefs you are forgetting that there is also a craft to teaching. Just being able to identify as an “x”theorist, does not mean that you possess the skills necessary to teach, communicate, and moderate a classroom of students. If your affliation becomes a requirement to a hire, where will the craft of teaching fall in the hiring hiearchy?

    Further, this article was so interesting because it seems to focus on the “right” of free speech; and yet the concept being discussed is not the “right” to express an opinion but the “should”. Anyone can speak, but all speech is not just by virture of it being spoken, of equal merit. A goal at Lafayette used to be to evaluate speech, thoughts based on facts, social construct and other motivators. I hope that is still the case.

    As for my comments about a back and forth between academics on social media. It surprises me that profs. chose to engage in such a meaty issue over social media. Whether that be your comment to a student (as reported , I have not seen it for myself) or another prof comment to you, both instances read to me like quips and more antagonistic than enlightening. Social media is vast, efficient and popular, but this is a complex conversation that if not facilitated well — results in nothing being learned.

    Lastly, we need true, patient, determined, responsible, critical thinkers to emerge from our Colleges and Universities, to everyone, whatever your political leaning, please stay engaged in this work. It makes a difference in every field, job and career, as well as in the basic civility of society. Thank you for your work!

  • T

    Tara Ochman ‘99Dec 3, 2017 at 12:51 pm

    This story fascinates me. It seems to center who should be allowed to speak, rather than speaking to the fact that colleges and Universities are charged with teaching students to evaluate speech within context. Further it feel as if a professors personal leanings need to be somehow negated, or hidden.
    When I was at Lafayette, any and all debate was welcomed. The value the professor provided was in his/ her to moderate the conversation and push people to evaluate the strength of opinions presented. This was the hallmark of the process. We knew that a Prof might have leanings but that did not impeded our ability to learn/challenge or discuss an issue. Nor did their leanings somehow sway us from havig our own thoughts— in fact often times it challenged us to be more thoughful about relevant points and counterpoints.

    It is also incredibly shocking to see two professors here use social media to present viewpoints without providing any reasonable construct for such an important debate.

    The lessons and skills of presenting, evaluating and engaging in constructive debates on important issues have served me well throughout my life and career. These are skills which I honed at Lafayette. I would hope this noble tradition is continued and respected at the highest level.

    • W

      William Rappolt ''67Dec 3, 2017 at 2:22 pm

      Well said Tara, quite frankly calling a fellow faculty member a creep is beneath the dignity of the office. It’s time for the adults to step in. Perhaps at some point the adults will reveal themselves.

    • B

      Brandon Van DyckDec 3, 2017 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Tara,

      A couple of things:

      1. You write: “We knew that a Prof might have leanings but that did not impede our ability to learn/challenge or discuss an issue. Nor did their leanings somehow sway us from having our own thoughts.” I hear you. The problem, in my view, is that the vast majority of college professors have the SAME general political leaning. On faculties in the major humanities and social sciences, there are almost no Republicans or self-described conservatives. The imbalance is much greater now than it was 20 years ago. (If you’re interested, check out Heterodox Academy, which has compiled much of the relevant research.) Why is this a problem? My contention is that it would be better, both for research and for student learning, if faculty were more diverse in their political biases. It is better to have one brilliant Marxist, one brilliant libertarian, and one brilliant evangelical Christian than to have three brilliant Marxists, or three brilliant libertarians, or three brilliant evangelical Christians. If greater viewpoint diversity existed on college faculties, peer review would be more rigorous, and students would get exposure to AUTHENTIC proponents of various, competing worldviews and approaches. At present, 80% of publications in the academic humanities receive zero citations. To me, that suggests a deterioration in the quality and relevance of humanities scholarship; I am virtually certain that greater viewpoint diversity within humanities departments would ameliorate that problem significantly.

      2. You write, “It is also incredibly shocking to see two professors here use social media to present viewpoints without providing any reasonable construct for such an important debate.” Could you say this another way or elaborate on your argument? I’m not sure I understand what you mean, and I want to.

  • W

    William Rappolt ''67Dec 1, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    I am still waiting for the “heroes” who tore down the posters,( in contravention of school rules) to climb out of their anonymous foxholes and come forward!!!

  • N

    Neil LomaxDec 1, 2017 at 2:40 pm

    Is Eli Manning elite?

  • S

    Stockton EulerDec 1, 2017 at 1:55 pm

    Well, at least with our new chair of Diversity and Equity the endowment should be up HUGE!

    • L

      LegendDec 1, 2017 at 2:36 pm

      How much bud did you sell last week stocky?

  • Y

    Young SheldonDec 1, 2017 at 1:25 pm

    About time these students got a dose of reality. Happy to see these alumni standup, they are the only ones that have experienced the real world in this whole discussion. The point of this exercise was to expose students to differing views (that future coworkers, bosses, neighbors may share) and they couldnt handle it.

  • H

    HaDec 1, 2017 at 1:23 pm

    Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that politics is not something that could be simply “kept out of classroom”, as if it is not something that affects people’s daily lives, as if it is just sports and entertainment that should just be blocked out. But perhaps it’s difficult to ask that for people whose lives are insulated from the tide of politics. As a graduate with a degree in both STEM and social science, I could certify that STEM is far from being politically agnostic, and anyone who thinks so has not taken time to critically look at the history and assumptions integral to STEM fields.

    Also, could we stop labeling arguments as left-winged, right-winged, conservative, liberal/progressive? These are very broad, imprecise, blanket statements that are easily used to squash and straw man ideas that could otherwise been heard.

    And to professor Van Dyck, could you honestly think your ad hominem attack is a “grown-up” example of responding to criticisms? You don’t view yourself as someone with power is perhaps similar to Louis CK not viewing himself as someone with power. Perhaps before thinking of instructing students to learn how to argue, you could re-examine your own behavior, and actually listen to arguments instead of mocking a soundbyte out of context.

    • B

      Brandon Van DyckDec 1, 2017 at 3:29 pm

      1. Louis CK had a moral responsibility not to abuse his power (i.e., not to behave as he did). You think I abused my power. I disagree. Happy to discuss further.

      2. I listen to arguments. On what ground do you suggest otherwise?

      • I

        i am trash manDec 5, 2017 at 9:32 pm

        “moral responsibility”


  • W

    William Rappolt ''67Dec 1, 2017 at 12:48 pm

    It has come to my attention that 100 posters were torn down overnight that were advertising the next TMS speaker…a professor is suspected. This is not free speech and not in the spirit of a liberal education. Whoever tore them down should have the courage to stand up in public and explain themselves. I glad when I went to Lafayette that an educated cogent argument was given more weight that holliganism!! Shame!!
    I am not going to go into the outrageous action by the administration to silence the TMS by charging them to use a college venue…is there any other professor being charged for a like event???

  • J

    Joseph ShieberDec 1, 2017 at 10:10 am

    I wanted to provide Professor Van Dyck with an example of something that IS unequivocally an example of white supremacy: a white, male, privileged professor condescending to provide an “exercise” for an undergraduate as a public taunt on Facebook.

    Professor Van Dyck should be ashamed of that abuse of his position. And the “Can’t they take a joke” defense of bullying and boorish behavior really needs to be retired — perhaps particularly in this age of #metoo.

    Joseph Shieber
    Associate Professor
    Department of Philosophy
    Lafayette College

    • B

      Brandon Van DyckDec 1, 2017 at 2:38 pm

      That, Joe Shieber, is called concept creep.

      • J

        Joseph ShieberDec 1, 2017 at 8:37 pm

        Professor Van Dyck, I’ve only seen evidence of one creep in this sordid episode. But please, don’t let me distract you from your pursuit of comforting the comfortable and afflicting the afflicted.

        • B

          Brandon Van DyckDec 2, 2017 at 7:59 pm

          You can call me Brandon. I think you’re a bit confused, so I take your critiques as unintended compliments. If you complimented me, I’d be alarmed and critically introspect. Kind of a Catch 22 for you.

      • A

        Anonymous studentDec 7, 2017 at 9:14 pm

        I’m just confused about why Van Dyck still works here. If any other Professor PUBLICLY BULLIED on a student on social media, they’d be out within the week.

    • A

      Anonymous former studentDec 3, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Professor Shieber,

      For someone who teaches “Logic”, you display a profound lack of it here by changing the definition of a word (in this case, White Supremacy) to mean whatever you want it to mean rather than its actual meaning (support of racial supremacy of the white race, a deplorable concept). By stretching the definition you devalue it as an insult as well as term for political discourse, because if everything is White Supremacy then nothing truly is, the word’s meaning having been lost.

      If you actually wish to stand against actual White Supremacy and its proponents, it would be wise to not classify anything you do not like as being it. Professor Van Dyck voted for Hillary Clinton and is a strong proponent of Liberal values, so if you begin to call that a White Supremacist you will soon find yourself surrounded only by White Supremacy due to an ever growing definition of it which simply amounts to ‘any idea, action, or opinion I do not like’. You give strength to a foolish cause like that of the actual White Supremacists by claiming every ill thing in the world to be wrought by their power, and if you ascribe to any white male the near Christian-level “Original Sin” concept of being an agent of White Supremacy you will find yourself making enemies and growing the divide between people rather than bridging it.

      As a staunch and firm liberal speaking to you, I would ask that you stop damaging our side of the argument with spurious claims and that you do your position at Lafayette a favor and not teach Logic one day, and then form a weak tautology which in the end makes everything related to White Supremacy the next. You do no-one any favors by leaping at shadows to virtue signal, especially when the nature of Van Dyck’s off-color remark was to point out that a public critic of his group relates everything to being White Supremacist. You make the point and prove the joke by falling into the same logical pitfall that they did, so please have some self-awareness, especially when you seemingly are criticizing a fellow professor for his being a white male when in fact you are one yourself.

      Former Student

      • A

        Anonymous studentDec 5, 2017 at 1:52 am

        To say that Professor Van Dyck’s actions could not be indicative of precisely the attitudes that further the marginalization of black students in higher education because he “voted for Hillary Clinton” or claims to be a liberal is clearly faulty reasoning. Have you considered the possibility that Professor Van Dyck’s actions are inconsistent with his professed beliefs?

        • A

          Anonymous former studentDec 6, 2017 at 1:37 am

          The way burden of proof works is that you must prove the claims before I am to disprove them. Prove that Professor Van Dyck pointing out that a student sees White Nationalism/Supremacy at every turn silences/marginalizes all black students in higher education, or admit that one student who happens to be black does not speak for all black students everywhere throughout America nor does any offense taken by them apply to anyone beyond their own self. If you can prove that greater harm was done the point can be addressed, but until then the burden of proof is upon you, not I, concerning that issue.

          Whether Professor Van Dyck lives up to your arbitrary purity test of what constitutes a “liberal” is also irrelevant to Professor Shieber’s crass, dismissive attitude which is the impetus of this thread of thought. He is conflating disagreement with his principles as being a sign of White Supremacy, a fundamentally flawed line of logic which given the criteria of his own courses needs to be corrected lest it be a sign that a Logic professor is unwilling to use it when actual everyday life.

          Your points are non-sequiturs since you are aiming to attack Van Dyck’s credibility as a liberal rather than addressing the point that Shieber is not allowing anyone who does not fit within his narrow world-view to be anything but the reviled creature known as a White Supremacist. If someone can stand for liberal values and support liberal parties/candidates but still be considered nothing more than a White Supremacist when they voted against the party which is associated with said movement then we have crossed a boundary we ought not to: that one can make spurious claims without actual evidence to label one

          Prove that Professor Van Dyck’s actions are actually what Shieber says or that black students across higher education were harmed by a small post followed by a gif of a minion, or don’t bring them up. It is not the onus of the one presented with a claim to prove it, it is on the one who presents a claim to prove it. Should you in some way prove your point I can discuss it, but simply posing a hypothetical at me as if it carries weight without having been in any way supported first is not just erroneous in form but also in taste.

          Now, as someone who is interested in discussion I am willing to hear out your case on these matters, but until an actual case there is nothing more to say. A hypothesis and then a non-sequitur do not a refutation make unfortunately. Contest my claims with facts and data, prove your own with facts or data, and an actual constructive discussion may be had rather than vague claims of Van Dyck’s actions somehow effect more than the party in question and in fact project across black students across America (a spurious assumption to act as if this is headline global news) none of which I can disprove truly since you have presented no actual case. I would like you to though and in fact welcome you to present a case, rather than present an opinion.

        • B

          Brandon Van DyckDec 6, 2017 at 12:03 pm

          Perhaps I should not have criticized Jovante on Facebook. But you seem to suggest that I did so because of his race. Let me say two things about that. First, you’re wrong. I treat people as individuals, not as members of racial groups. Skin color tells me nothing that I care about–nothing about a person’s beliefs, values, personality, or intelligence. Second, you shouldn’t make damning accusations without strong evidence. It’ll come back to bite you.

          • A

            Anonymous studentDec 7, 2017 at 2:26 pm

            “Perhaps I should not have criticized Jovante on Facebook. But you seem to suggest that I did so because of his race. Let me say two things about that…”

            If it truly seems to you that I suggested this, allow me to dispel that illusion for you.. But frankly, think that you are trying to distract from the point by suggesting this.

            To say that your actions are not contributing to the problem of institutionalized racism because you do not hold literal racist views is just as substantive an argument as claiming that a person could not have perpetrated sexual harassment because they do not personally hold sexist views. It is basically another iteration of the old “what I said could not have been (race/sex/class/etc.)-ist because I don’t hold (race/sex/class/etc.)-ist views” ‘argument.’

            Tell me, do you disagree with the following?

            (1) There are certain groups that are critically underrepresented in higher education / academia
            (2) The above is something that should be remedied.
            (3) One way to work towards improving (1) is to promote productive dialogue about race on college campuses, particularly among members of these underrepresented minorities.

            If you do not disagree with the above, please let me know in what way a professor singling out a black student on a public Facebook page regarding their views on race contributes to accomplishing (3).

            Do you think that your actions on Facebook have made anyone feel more comfortable about sharing their views on race, for instance, in a class that you might be teaching? I know personally that given your actions, I would not feel comfortable doing so. Do you think that that is acceptable given your position as a professor of government and law at Lafayette? Tell me, what group of students do you think might feel more encouraged by your post to share their views on race?

            I mean, are you really so oblivious to the way your actions are perceived? Even just reread the final sentences of your last reply to me. What is that supposed to mean? It comes off like something ominous one might expect from the mouth of a cartoonish movie villain. Are you seriously threatening some random Lafayette student over an anonymous internet forum?

          • B

            Brandon Van DyckDec 7, 2017 at 11:33 pm

            Anonymous Student:

            “I think that you are trying to distract from the point by suggesting [that I thought you criticized Jovante because of his race].” I’m not attempting to distract from the point. I want to understand your point. I must have misunderstood it, and that happens.

            Do I think that “certain groups…are critically underrepresented in higher education / academia”? Three points on this. First, if I were running a college, I would want the most academically qualified, virtuous, intellectually diverse, temperamentally diverse, and experientially diverse student body and faculty possible. Second, as I’m sure you agree, an individual’s skin color carries no information about his/her academic qualifications, virtue, intellectual commitments, temperament, and life experiences. To believe otherwise, in my view, is to be a racist. Third, I do not have a strong view on whether, given my criteria, some groups are underrepresented in higher education. Some argue that Asian-Americans are underrepresented in student bodies because affirmative action policies deny them spots that, given their academic qualifications, they should receive. Some argue that blacks are underrepresented because academic selection criteria deny them spots that, given the experience of blacks in America, they should receive. As I stated above, I do think that individuals’ life experiences should be taken into account when deciding whether to admit them as students or hire them as professors; the wider the range of experiences that a college’s students and faculty can share with each other, the more enriching the environment will be, for everyone. So, for example, if a black applicant has faced a significant amount of unjustified racial discrimination in his or her life, I think that it makes sense for an admissions or hiring committee to give that applicant an advantage. Exactly how much of an advantage—and exactly how important such life experiences are, compared to an applicant’s academic qualifications—I do not feel equipped to say right now. I do worry that, if we give too much weight to students’ and professors’ personal experiences, academic standards could erode, and the quality of both academic research and higher education could suffer significantly as a result.

            Do I think that we should “promote productive dialogue about race on college campuses,” and if I do, “in what way [does] a professor singling out a black student on a public Facebook page regarding their views on race [contribute] to accomplishing” that? I do believe that colleges should promote productive dialogue about race; colleges should promote productive dialogue about all important topics. Many people in my life have told me that my Facebook post was ill-advised. On reflection, I’m inclined to agree with them. If I could go back in time, I would not have published the post; I do not think the post was virtuous (an old-fashioned concept, but one that I take seriously) or effective. Nevertheless, the fact that I “[singled] out a *black* student” – something you, not I, find reason to mention – is not relevant, in my view, to the ethics of my post. Whatever you may think, I would have published the same post if Jovante were a white student. A lot of students and faculty, across the racial spectrum, use the concept of white supremacy in a manner that I find absurd and counterproductive. Jovante happens to be the most vehement, public critic of The Mill Series and similar initiatives (e.g., the Open Debate Club)—at least, the most vehement, public critic of whom I am aware. He has repeatedly linked The Mill Series, and he once linked the Open Debate Club, to white supremacy. This I find absurd, and I’m free to say so, although I should be more careful about when and how to say so, for both moral and pragmatic reasons. But my point, again, is that Jovante’s skin color played no role in my (ill-considered) decision to publicly satirize his use of the concept of white supremacy.

            If you would feel uncomfortable sharing your views on race in a class I teach, let me try to dispel your fears. First, when I teach, I do not inject my personal opinion often, and when I knowingly do, I preface my statement by making clear that it is an opinion. Second, I like when students challenge my arguments or unreflective assumptions; I encourage them to do so, and I very much enjoy engaging them in conversations just like this. Third, as I said in the above article, I grade students independently of personal feelings and political or ideological differences.

            Finally, I did not threaten you. I offered you an unsolicited piece of life advice: be careful about making damning accusations because, if they are false, the falsely accused—and those close to the falsely accused—will be justly aggrieved and unlikely to forget.

            In closing, despite what you may think, there is no need to have this conversation with me anonymously. You can come talk to me in my office anytime. You’d find, I think, that I’m not scary.

            Be well!


  • J

    Joseph JumbalayaDec 1, 2017 at 8:10 am

    I’m happy that the STEM professors I learned under kept politics out of the classroom, but the same can’t be said for the humanities courses I took. Definite left-leaning bias, some very vehement anti-Conservative talk, blatantly bashing the values some on the right hold. There’s no place for that in a college course that’s not specifically centered around politics.

    By blocking right-wing speakers from coming to speak would be silencing something you disagree with – which goes against free speech. If the college were to ever block any speaker from coming, regardless of their political affiliations, cultural ties, etc, I would be ashamed to say I’m an alumn. Students are supposed to be challenged in college, not just academically, but in all ways of life. If higher ed becomes a platform for the democrat party and republican ideals are expressly forbidden, where’s the diversity in that?